An exceptional new book has come out that features a vastly successful businessman targeted by several government agencies that are in collusion.

In an intriguing twist, the main character is not President Trump. Scorched Worth: A True Story of Destruction, Deceit and Government Corruption, covers the hard fought legal battle between Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), the second largest lumber producer in the nation, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the United States Forest Service.

The book’s author is Joel Engel, who has previously written for Legal Insurrection and has penned more than a dozen non-fiction books. Engel’s talent shines in his coverage of the case between SPI and the government agencies, as he takes us on a engaging review of fire science, legal manipulation, and what happens when a successful corporation is targeted unfairly by greedy, power-drunk bureaucrats. The man at the center of the saga is Red Emmerson, who founded SPI.

In 2009, the US Justice Department’s Eastern District of California filed a lawsuit against SPI (and some minor defendants) for damages related to a 2007 forest fire in California’s Sierra Nevadas that scorched burned about 65,000 acres. The suit was based on an origin-and-cause report filed by Joshua White, an investigator from Cal Fire, that claimed a tractor operated by SPI’s logging subcontractor had struck a rock, generating a spark that ignited surrounding combustible materials to become an inferno.

The state of California wanted about $10 million from SPI, and the federal government was asking for nearly a $1 billion. The excessive amount of damages requested was a big clue that there were problems with the government’s case.

Over the course of nearly three years of their own investigation and legal discovery, SPI’s lawyers “found that White and his counterpart from the United States Forest Service had failed to follow established investigative protocols, fabricated inculpatory evidence, hid exculpatory evidence, invented both a false theory of the fire and a false ignition point for the fire, lied under oath, and intentionally disregarded the possible involvement of a young man named Ryan Bauer, who started volunteering unsolicited alibis and statements which turned out to be contradicted by facts and subsequent statements.”

However, the extent of the corruption was not fully uncovered until SPI had turned over 22,500 acres of California forest paid $50 million in a negotiated settlement of the federal lawsuit. And while a California Superior Court Judge Leslie Nichols dismissed the state lawsuit in 2013, and ordered Cal Fire to pay the defendants the largest discovery sanction ever ordered to be paid by a government agency ($32 million), SPI had still taken a fiscal and public relations hit.

Engel deftly organizes the chapters so that readers get a feel for the people behind the story. Emmerson, SPI’s founder, has an incredible background story, essentially building a lumber empire with nothing more than his own two hands and an intense, personal drive to succeed. I found myself getting emotionally invested in the outcome of the court cases.

For those of you interested, here is some background on SPI:

Being a Californian, I also enjoyed the background on how forest fire investigations are conducted. Engel presents the fire science information exceptionally well, which is an essential element to the legal wrangling that is also engrossing.

If Hollywood’s producers were smart, one of them would make Scorched Worth into a mini-series: It has memorable characters, wonderful background stories, intense legal drama, and vindication for the underdogs. However, because the “good guys” in this tale are corporate lawyers and a lumber giant and the “bad guys” are forestry bureaucrats, I doubt a film version will ever be made.

I recommend buying a copy via our Amazon link! The book gets 5 stars from me. If you like true crime stories and tales of regular Americans overcoming enormous challenges, Scorched Worth is worth having in your library.


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